By Johanna L. Rivera
Last year around this time I was in a town called Hasankeyf located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in Turkey. The Tigris Valley, with the ancient city of Hasankeyf at its centre, is one of mankind’s most valuable cultural assets. We drove from Kiziltepe, passing through the ancient town of Medyat and eventually reached Hasankeyf, driving slowly through a road under construction. As I explored this portion of the Silk Road, I had goose-bumps and my eyes watered at my first views of the Tigris River. All this beauty is at risk of being flooded by the construction of the Ilisu Dam. Back when I was there, I didn’t know anything about this project. When I recently heard about it, I asked one of my friends who works in an environmental organization here in Iraq and she told me about the impacts of the dam not only in Turkey, but also here in Iraq.
In Iraq, the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative (ICSSI) is supporting a transnational advocacy campaign, looking to bring the issue back to the table. Raising awareness of the impact of the dam construction in Iraqi water resources and joining forces within Iraq, Turkey and Iran, we have started a petition supporting the submission of the Marshes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Turkey, initiatives like Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive and organizations like Doga, are doing the same with Hasankeyf, and shaming the local banks financing the dam and also have brought many artists and writers to support their campaign. Internationally there have been European efforts like Stop Ilisu Campaign, that have worked on raising awareness internationally and helped to get international banks to divest from the project.
UNESCO must work with both the government and civil society to seek attention from the international community to this important issue. The consequences are cultural, political, and environmental and need to be addressed immediately. I’m not saying we should oppose development, but we should look at all the possible negative impacts and work to mitigate them. To develop a participatory, inclusive and sustainable plan in compliance with international law, that could benefit both the economy and the people that is impacted by the changes.